Features

Operation rescue

Pakistan | A Pakistani Christian frees kidnapped Christian children-and faces the wrath of Pakistan's terrorist slavers

Issue: "Books and Movies 2006," July 1, 2006

As befits a fugitive with an alias, "Amir" is both a hero and a hunted man. In hiding since May from a Pakistani terrorist group doggedly tracing him, he wrote in an e-mail on June 18, "I know that they will kill me soon." But no fear, he wrote in broken English: "I am ready for die."

Amir, a Christian in majority-Muslim Pakistan, knew he would have to flee with his family when he mounted an undercover rescue of Christian children kidnapped by Muslim traffickers. In doing so, he gathered film footage that could severely damage a popular Islamic charity-and terrorist front-in Pakistan, called Jamaat ud Dawa, or JUD.

While his life was always at risk, things turned worse weeks after the rescue. Amir hoped to win safe passage to the United States or another country to escape JUD. But while U.S. embassy and State Department officials have seemed eager to collect his evidence against JUD, they offered no visa or asylum as of June 22, more than a month since Amir pleaded for sanctuary.

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"The more he reveals to State and they start working with the Pakistani government, the more JUD will be motivated to find him and kill him," said David, the American missionary who helped Amir redeem the children. (WORLD interviewed David twice and examined the photos Amir and others had taken; revealing David's full name would endanger his life.) With corruption rampant in the Pakistani government, he told WORLD, "it's one bribe away from [Amir's] whereabouts being discovered by the wrong person."

The story began in February, when David visited Pakistan to work with Amir. After reading about children sold into slavery, he says he asked Amir if they could save a few by buying them from slavers. He was thinking aloud, but Amir would soon be several steps ahead of him.

Within about two weeks, Amir wrote to David in the United States and said he had been able to infiltrate a slave network near Quetta in Balochistan, one of the fractious provinces that border Afghanistan. Posing as a businessman who wanted children for a begging ring, Amir gave a $500 down payment on three boys among 20 he chose from a photo album, promising the rest of the money later.

"I was totally blown away by that," David said. Now he had to raise the rest of the $5,000 Amir had pledged within two months, when he was due to return to Pakistan. The sum was an apparent bulk discount, because one child's kidneys could sell for $3,000. The traffickers told him they had other marketable uses for boys and girls, whom they like to be between ages 5 and 10: for sex, as camel jockeys in the Middle East, and as drug carriers for smugglers. The slavers also said they target Christians, considered infidels, and never abduct Muslim children.

David struggled with the wisdom of buying the children. He thought, All we're really doing is buying three kids so they can restock their inventory and get three more. So he and Amir devised a plan that would also snap the slave ring: Amir would wear a concealed camera that would record one of his next transactions with the traffickers. Then, he hoped, he could find honest officers within the Pakistani police force to help arrest them.

When Amir met the slavers again to pick up the three boys, he persuaded them to hand over pictures of the other 17 boys by paying them another $2,500 and promising to buy them all. That meant another $28,500 for David to raise through his small ministry within two months.

In the six weeks leading up to the May rescue, police worked closely with Amir: Two of them even traveled to Quetta with him as supposed bodyguards when he met with the slavers. The slavers agreed to bring the 17 boys to Punjab Province, where David and Amir would be. The two men agreed to fix the button camera to one of Amir's harmless-looking bodyguards so he could get wide-enough shots of the transaction and not just close-ups. Six police officers were to pose as field workers nearby so they could quickly call for backup and capture the slavers.

The rendezvous was set for 2 p.m. May 10. But instead of bringing the boys to Amir, a man stepped into Amir's car and directed him along obscure one-lane roads surrounded by fields. The police could not follow without being discovered, so Amir was on his own. Another man then got in and guided Amir deeper into the countryside. Finally, they came upon head slaver Gul Khan sitting on a bench in a field with some 15 heavily armed men, having his shoulders massaged.

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